Child Covid rates in county are 10 times summer peak
HEALTH EXPERTS URGE CAUTION AHEAD OF THE WINTER, WHILE TEACHERS’ UNIONS WANT EXTRA SAFETY MEASURES IN PLACE
THE number of Covid-19 cases among children is more than 10 times higher than before the summer peak.
Although the rate dropped weekon-week in the month from September 10 to October 7 – the latest data available – about 7,000 pupils aged five to 14 tested positive in the city and county.
That compares with 641 cases confirmed in June, when the school bubble system was in operation.
About 5,300 pupils were off school in the last week of that month in their bubbles.
In the city, there were 268 cases found in the seven days up to Thursday, October 7. The previous seven days saw 346 cases, 386 cases the week before and 441 cases in the week before that.
Across Leicestershire County Council’s patch there were 1,171 cases among pupils in the seven days to October 7, with 1,323 cases, 1,721 and 1,441 cases in the preceding weeks.
The figures have caused concern among teaching union members.
The National Education Union said one in 12 pupils in the country is infected with Covid-19 – and urged councils to take action.
The school bubble system, which required all pupils to isolate for 10 days when a member of their class tested positive, was scrapped by the government on August 16 ahead of the term starting on August 23.
Mike Sandys, director of public health for Leicestershire County Council, said there had undoubtedly been a large number of cases in schools since the start of term, but he felt the scrapping of the school bubbles system was the right move at the time.
He said: “We’ve seen since the start of our term that we’ve had an awful lot of cases in schools.
“Thankfully, while our schools went back earlier and for a spell our rates for the 11 to 16 category were very high, they’re now down with the national average.
“So essentially we’re now coming down while the rest of the country is actually going up.
“At the end of the day, the decision the government made was there is a risk in catching Covid, but for children actually the risk of not having any full educational experience is higher than the risk of Covid to some extent and I can understand that. I think given the state of the vaccination programme, it was the right time to open up and make sure kids get an education, but it’s just really important to make sure people are still cautious and exercise a bit of responsibility.
“I think it would be good practice if people could think a bit more along the lines of Covid has not gone away, so it would be a really good move to think about wearing a mask and keeping your distance and not forgetting some of the old messages we’ve always had.”
Ivan Browne, director of public health for Leicester City Council, said: “We’re not surprised the numbers went up from June because we were dealing with summer months as opposed to winter months.
“I think as we go into winter there’s real concern about what those case numbers will look like. “We have got lots of winter illnesses that are going to be circulating at the same time. “You have to remember last year at this time there was lots of social distancing, there was lockdown, so risk of transmission was considerably lower. “But clearly the big thing was we were doing quite a lot of active case finding in terms of making sure there was in-house testing in schools to just try to identify some of those asymptomatic cases.
“We are testing and monitoring and making sure that young people are in a position where they’re not ending up being really sick or in hospital. “Thankfully, the hospital data at the moment seems to be indicating that’s not the case, but nonetheless young people mixing will increase the risk of transmission.” At one point, Leicestershire had the second highest infection rate for five to 14-year-olds in schools in the country.
Data analyst and director of Open Data for Safer Schools, Colin Bellamy, now puts Leicestershire fifth. Leicester is 54th, down from 12th.
A spokesman for the National Education Union’s East Midlands office said: “What we’re looking for is the local authorities in these areas to be taking some steps and looking at what type of mitigation they’ve got and what perhaps they could reintroduce.
“Some of our suggestions are the stopping of school-wide assemblies, considering the reintroduction of classroom bubbles, face coverings where appropriate in schools, looking at reintroducing staggered start and finish times. “Members are concerned. They’re concerned for the children, for the children’s families, for themselves and their families. We’re keen, obviously, to see the age groups being vaccinated as quickly as possible.”
Mr Browne said he believes vaccinating the 12 to 15 age group to be the right step.
“I have a child in that age category and we sat down and we had the conversation.
“There are some huge benefits that we feel come from that in terms of his continuity of education, to make sure others are protected, all of those kind of things.
“I personally believe it’s the right thing to do.
“If you look at other parts of the world, there’s lots of information out there in terms of showing that it has been safe for young people, it has helped to reduce the amount of time young people have off, so we’re not in a position where we’re having large school closures again.”
Mr Sandys said: “The more I read the anti-vaccination stickers, the more it drives me nuts, really, because I look at them and go vaccination clearly cuts the risk of dying by a good 90 to 95 per cent.
“From an adult point of view, there are absolutely no excuses not to go for vaccination if you’re able to. “The risk of dying from Covid if you’re really young is very small, but it comes back to education. “You’re not just thinking about whether you’re going to die from Covid but the impact of being off school, having to isolate, missing lessons particularly if you’re in a GCSE year.”
It would be good practice if people could think a bit more along the lines of Covid is not gone away
Mike Sandys I think as we go into winter there’s real concern about what those case numbers will look like
Prof Ivan Browne